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North Dakota's COVID-19 risk level lowered; business capacity restrictions eased

North Dakota's COVID-19 risk level lowered; business capacity restrictions eased

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State health officials reported slight increases in COVID-19 active cases and hospitalizations as well as 11 more deaths on Friday, as the statewide COVID-19 risk level was lowered from high risk to moderate risk and business capacity restrictions were eased.

The drop from orange to yellow on the state's five-level color-coded system was the first reduction since early November, when Gov. Doug Burgum moved all counties to orange amid a spike in coronavirus cases. The rapid rise began lessening after the governor in mid-November implemented a statewide mask mandate and business restrictions. Some people credit those measures for the drop; others view them as infringements on personal freedom.

Active cases on Friday rose by 34 from the previous day, to 2,212, but that's still more than 80% below the pandemic high in mid-November. Hospitalizations rose by 2, to 85, but that's nearly 75% below the pandemic high two months ago. 

Burgum on Dec. 22 lifted an order that restricted bars and restaurants to takeout, curbside and delivery between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. The governor this past Monday announced that business capacity restrictions would be eased as of Friday, and the risk level would be lowered. The level indicates which set of ND Smart Restart guidelines should be followed by everything from businesses to family gatherings.

Coronavirus in North Dakota Active

Burgum cited the drop in active cases and hospitalizations, along with a decline in the state's positivity rate. The rate on 8,124 tests handled Thursday, as calculated by the state, was a relatively low 4.21%.

The amended order that took effect at 8 a.m. Friday allows restaurants, bars and other food service establishments to operate at 65% of their licensed capacity, rather than 50%, with a maximum of 200 patrons. Banquets, ballrooms and event venues can increase their capacities from 25% to 50%, not to exceed limits under the state protocols. Facilities still must adhere to other requirements, such as placing tables apart, closing dance areas and requiring masks.

The new requirements are in effect through 8 a.m. on Jan. 29. The statewide mask mandate expires Jan. 18.

Other daily data reported by the state on Thursday included 303 new COVID-19 cases, raising the pandemic total to 94,438, with 90,964 recoveries, 3,642 hospitalizations and 1,352 deaths. The 11 new deaths statewide included a Morton County woman in her 80s. Active cases in Burleigh-Morton number 342.

BSC move

Bismarck State College announced Friday it will lower its COVID-19 risk level from high to moderate effective Monday, due to several factors including a "near zero" rolling positivity rate the past several weeks.

“Our students and employees have been fully committed to the COVID-related safety measures in place," President Doug Jensen said in a statement. "Their dedication allowed for a successful fall semester. Moving forward we are asking them all to remain diligent and dedicated to the individual safety practices that will lead to a successful, engaged and healthy spring term.”

With the change in risk level, visitation between rooms for people living in the same hall will be allowed. Outside guests still will not be allowed in the residence halls.

Seating capacity in the Mystic Marketplace will increase from 50% to 65%. Capacity in other areas will increase from 25% to 50%.

BSC will continue to require masks and social distancing, and will encourage hand washing and regular testing. Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health and BSC host free COVID-19 testing weekly on Mondays in the BSC Armory, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Testing is open to all BSC students and employees. Those wishing to be tested should sign up for a time slot  at https://covidtestingbsc.as.me/schedule.php and preregister at testreg.nd.gov.  

For more information, go to bismarckstate.edu/covid.

More information

Violations of the mask mandate and business capacity restrictions could be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Repeat violations could lead to a fine up to $1,500 and 30 days in jail. For more information, go to www.bit.ly/38NiT4r and https://bit.ly/2Xq34tk.

The state's COVID-19 Smart Restart County Analysis data dashboard can be accessed at www.health.nd.gov/healthmetrics. A list of vaccine priority groups can be found at https://www.health.nd.gov/covid-19-vaccine-priority-groups. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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